Fun Things To Do in Gualala
If nature, outdoor exploration and art speak to your soul, you'll find plenty of things to do in Gualala.
Perched just outside of the northern-most edge of the Sonoma County coast in Mendocino and nestled into craggy bluffs at the mouth of the Gualala River, the peaceful village of Gualala has a uniquely mild micro-climate.
Known locally as the "banana belt," Gualala's unique location means ocean winds tend to keep the fog offshore. So on days when other coastal areas might be foggy, you'll often find sunny skies here. And all that famous California sunshine is ideal for unplugging and recharging via some indulgence in nature, whether on the beach, in the water or amid the colossal trunks of ancient redwood trees.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Gualala:
1. See Pygmy Redwood Forests
One of the world's coastal wonders, the Pygmy forest in Salt Point State Park features stands of mature but miniature Bishop pine, Bolander pine, Mendocino cypress, and even petite redwood trees (normally the world's tallest living things).
Though some of the trees are more than a century old, they're only a few feet tall due to the unique climate of the area prohibiting their full development. The 3.8-mile Pygmy Forest Trail loop takes you through a mixed evergreen forest, grassy prairies, and (in season) lots of mushrooms and wildflowers on your way to the miniature trees.
2. Explore the Arts
The Gualala region teems with excellent artists—painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, photographers, writers, glass workers, jewelry makers, potters, and more. Many are former city folks who are happier pursuing art in an environment that fuels creativity.
You can enjoy their work through changing monthly exhibits at the Gualala Arts Center and its Dolphin Gallery. The Center also hosts performances throughout the year that include a chamber music series, jazz, lectures, and theater, as well as annual festivals like the Whale & Jazz Festival (April/May) and Art in the Redwoods (August). Many other events take place at the Center — and some are free! — so check the calendar to see what's happening during your visit.
3. Hike Dunes and Coastal Bluffs
With its vast expanse of white sandy beach and dunes, Gualala Point Regional Park offers the opportunity to stroll beside the Gualala River as it travels seaward. Indulge your inner child as you walk, by building driftwood castles, running up and down sand dunes, hunting for sea glass, collecting shells, trying your hand at fishing (depending on the season), soaking up the views, or just sitting and daydreaming.
The park's Bluff Top Coastal Access Trail offers eyefuls of magical sights as it meanders along the cliff edge. Take a moment to pause and reflect at Whale Watch Point to see if you can catch a glimpse of passing gray whales cresting over the waves. Then follow the river away from the shore to a freshwater marsh followed by beyond redwood groves that shade bristling sword ferns and flashy rhododendrons.
4. Taste Coastal Flavors at Gualala Restaurants
For a small town, Gualala has a pretty impressive food scene, with many eateries showcasing fresh-caught seafood and other locally sourced delights. Head to Gualala Seafood Shack for fish and chips, clam chowder and fish tacos that regularly get rave reviews.
At Vue Kitchen, savor Burgundy-braised short ribs, rock cod ceviche and bowls of soy-ginger-glazed tofu with seasonal veggies—all with a side of stunning ocean sunsets. Or head to Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen, where local ingredients star in pumpkin curry and crispy prawns.
5. Play a Round of Golf ... Scottish Style
Immediately south of Gualala is the world-famous Sea Ranch Golf Links, an 18-hole, 6,649-yard, par-72, Scottish links-style course designed by Robert Muir Graves. He designed two nine-hole courses at the same time, but they were built 22 years apart, which gives the feel of playing two different but equally exciting courses.
Considered one of the premier courses in California, Sea Ranch is both challenging and beautiful, as you'll catch sight of the rolling ocean waters from the lush greens. On-site features include a pro shop, driving range, and putting green; instruction and rental clubs are available, as are pull and electric carts.
6. Get Your Paddle On
Choose your vessel — kayak or canoe — and Gualala's Adventure Rents will shuttle you upriver, help you stow your gear, give you any lessons needed, and then set you free to mosey back downstream at your own leisurely speed.
Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy as you relax on a gravel bar, where you can kick back to watch the river move lazily along. Have your camera ready: You'll see osprey swooping for fish while leggy herons step daintily through the shallows, and you may even spot river otters diving and splashing.
See Sonoma County's safety tips for water activities here.
7. Go Camping in Gualala's Redwoods
Camping in Gualala River Redwoods Park is a one-of-a-kind experience. Whether you prefer to snuggle up in a tent or a cozy RV, you'll go to sleep under deep indigo skies dappled with stars and wake up beneath towering redwoods.
Hop in a kayak and take a leisurely float down the river to the Pacific. Cast for steelhead trout or enjoy ocean breezes and gull cries as you fish from grassy bluffs. Listen for birdsong while weaving through the forest on a meditative stroll on the park's trails (one of which leads to the beach). You'll also have access to fire pits for roasting s'mores, ping pong tables, cornhole boards and more.
8. Find Your Perfect Gualala Hotel
Be forewarned about the accommodations in this beachside haven: Many have a surplus of charm. At St. Orres, you can dream sweetly in rooms paneled in rich reclaimed redwood which overlook gardens and forests. Or book private cabins and cottages whose amenities feature everything from saunas and wood-burning stoves to cliffside decks with ocean views. The aptly named Seacliff Motel perches on a bluff and boasts private balconies, jetted tubs, fireplaces and stargazing set to the sound of crashing waves.
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Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.